Prescription for Play: Beautiful Photos Show a Surprising Side of Kids’ Hospital Lives

Child life programs bring play, joy and empowerment to sometimes scary and stressful situations.

Parker Barry

Maimonides Infants & Children’s Hospital in Brooklyn, like many children’s hospitals, has an active playroom, where child life specialists provide expressive arts and open-ended play opportunities, as well as board and digital games. Kids play here or take toys, crayons, books, Wii consoles and other activities back to their rooms.

The playroom at Maimonides.
Pessy, 4, and Michelle, 5, play together in the playroom at Maimonides.
Alexis Ellis, child life specialist in the inpatient unit at Maimonides, helps Michelle build magnetic block towers just before she’s discharged. 
child_life_michelle_buildsMichelle’s mom waits for her outside while Michelle continues to build with Alexis. When it’s time to leave, Michelle strongly protests — patients get attached to the playroom.
Pessy, 4, enjoys the playroom with her mom, Esty Zelih, who says, “The atmosphere here is really pleasant; she shouldn’t be afraid of this place.”
 “Playing makes her smile!” Esty says about Pessy. “We noticed that she’s getting more comfortable and happy; more natural, and more herself.”
Peter Gismondi from Kids Kicking Cancer does bedside martial arts and meditation with Krystian, 10.
“When I walk in the room, I’m not going to stick him with a needle or take his temperature,” Peter says. “I’m there purely to have fun with him and let him get a little frustration out. It’s a way of empowering kids when they feel helpless and powerless.”
Aileen, age 8, gets a bedside surprise from Yana Babaev, AKA “Freckle Speckle the Clown” from enCourage Kids Foundation.
Aileen says, “I would tell other kids coming into the hospital to not worry, because there are many kids that come here and the doctors help make them feel better. Freckles played with me; I wonder how she does the magic.”
Olivia, 5, is in and out of the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) with chronic asthma. Child life intern Madeha Ayub helped her make lungs out of a bottle, tape, two balloons and two straws. Using Sculpey clay, Olivia learns how her lungs can get clogged, making it harder to breathe.
Daniela Bauer, child life specialist and music therapist at Maimonides Cancer Center, co-creates a syringe painting with Maleha, 12. “Maleha is nonverbal, but very expressive through body language and she LOVES to color. In an environment where so many choices are taken from young patients, giving creative choices to empower patients and giving them a voice beyond speaking can be very therapeutic. She held my hand and directed it; she smiled more and held eye contact with me longer.”

Marj Kleinman is a Brooklyn based photographer and children’s media producer with a master’s in educational psychology. All photos by Marj Kleinman.

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